Wanted: Your Artistic Advice

IMG_1900It’s time for the Endangered Alphabets to get on with the most ambitious carving project yet: the Tibetan dining table. As you may recall, our plan is to auction it as we go, to offer you the chance to bid on what will be not only unique but quite astonishing item before it goes into a gallery and the price moves into the realm of the GNP of many small nations. The reserve price is $2,500. Now read on…

My partner-in-wooden-crime Tim Peters has done the first part of his job magnificently, and the round cherry tabletop, with a nicely beveled edge, is now in my living-room. Next it’s my job to carve it, but first I have to plan the design I want to carve–and that’s where I could use your advice.

Here’s the situation. I was going to carve a repeated Tibetan phrase, probably a mantra or a blessing, around the outer rim of the tabletop. (See Fig. 1, though the band of carving would not be that broad. It’s just a poorly-executed diagram, I’m afraid.)

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Then it struck me that as soon as the table is set with pates, silverware, and so on, the carving would be hidden! Hardly a great idea. So now I’m think of a band that starts perhaps ten inches in from the edge. (See Fig. 2, which is just as out-of-proportion, alas.)

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But which blessing or mantra to carve?

I’m 90 percent sure I want to use the wonderful calligraphy of Tashi Mannox, a trained Buddhist monk living on the borders of England and Wales. (His work is stunning–I highly encourage you to visit it, look through his pages, order a few pieces, and so on. Tashi and I have an agreement that if I sell a carving based on his calligraphy, 20 percent of the profits go to Rokpa International, a charity assisting sick and homeless children in the Himalayan region.) But which design to use?

My first thought was that I’d adapt the Tashi Mannox design I used for a much smaller table (Fig.3).


Fig. 3
Fig. 3

I especially like the flowing circular feel to the text, making it almost like a mandala. But I’m always looking to try something new, so I went back to Tashi’s site and particularly liked this and this and this.

Normally I get my artistic advice from my amazingly talented artist daughters, Zoe and Maddy, but for once they completely disagreed with each other. So I’m inviting you, as a friend of the Endangered Alphabets, to offer your suggestions. The person who gives the most convincing argument why I should pick one of these–or a completely different Tibetan design–will win a copy of my book Endangered Alphabets.

But I need to start pencilling the design on the table SOON, so send me your ideas and suggestions by NOON on THURSDAY EST in the Comments box or at brookes@champlain.edu. And invite friends to send me their thoughts, too!



14 Responses

  1. Rik Palieri

    Hi Tim,
    I like the last design best as it is more in harmony with the circle. The other two are really nice but they are too busy. As many viewers won’t understand the language,unless it is explained , it seems that a design that is pleasing to the eye works best… Just saying. 🙂

    • Timothy Brookes

      Thanks, Rik. You bring up two other salient considerations: (a) some of these designs are lovely but would take forever to carve, and while I’m ambitious, I want to actually finish this thing, and (b) the meaning of the text is important, I think. So tale that into consideration, everyone!

  2. Nancy Beaven

    Hi, Tim,
    I was going to ask what the first two meant in English and then weigh in with an opinion (I was leaning toward the first one) but now that I’ve read Rik’s comments I have to agree with him…plus, what a great thing to have on one’s dining table: “Love conquers all”! Good luck, Tim!

    • Timothy Brookes

      Thanks, Nancy! I think we can assume that whoever buys the table will know (because I will have told ’em!) what the text means. And the problem with the “Love conquers all” is that the calligraphy doesn’t flow laterally like the text on the smaller table–which means, by the way, “graceful kindness.” It radiates out from a central point attractively, to be sure, but I don’t find it as fluid.

  3. Sally

    Another thing to ponder…if it is closer to the edge it can be touched…there’s something spiritual about touching words, particularly those carved in wood, woven in tapestry, or etched in metal….pleasing to the eye, lovely to hear, but the sense of touch can’t be beaten. Just a thought.

    • Timothy Brookes

      Yes, this entire project is full of ponderables. It will be reachable and touchable whether the design runs right to the edge of not, and you’re right, one of the aspects of the Alphabets I had never anticipated was that tactile quality, the desire to touch. Meanwhile, having a carved surface also means we have to work out how to prevent people’s glasses catching an edge and tipping over!

  4. Joel

    Hello, Tim,

    Not to further muddy the waters, but I really prefer the middle link of the three, primarily because there are enough horizontal (or lateral?) lines in the design that they help delineate a circle of sorts on their own. Visually, that seems more pleasing, at least to my eye: a hint of boundary for the script, like a trellis for a flowering vine. Of course, they’re all beautiful, so there’s no bad choice.

    Or . . . Here’s another question that a friend poses to me when I’m stuck between choices. Which option makes you feel the lightest?

    Best wishes. Love your work.

    • Timothy Brookes

      Thanks, Joel! Not only thoughtful advice, but lyrical prose!

  5. Craig Meulen

    Hi Tim – What an honour to be asked for our opinion like this!

    I’ll throw in two slightly different suggestions.

    i) Take the design you put above in Fig. 3 and put it in the centre of the table more or less as it appears in Fig. 3. That way it forms a centrepiece and might even remain fairly uncovered during dinner so everyone can contemplate it.

    ii) If you prefer a larger circle design for the edge or a ‘halfway-ring’ as you describe, why not take a design which is circular in its very meaning – the chain of dependent origination?
    I’d leave out the blue central “Natural Law” – no need for that. And there is no necessity to highlight in red the vowel signs and twelve term separators as Tashi did.

    Actually, for this purpose I would probably prefer to turn the text up the other way (having the tops of the letters on the inside).
    As in this one:
    For me, as someone who reads Tibetan, I’d quite like to be able to read the text flowing past me and not strain my neck to read the text opposite me. But that doesn’t sound like an option if you don’t have time to commission a new layout.

    Hope that helps,

    • Timothy Brookes

      Wow. This is thinking not only outside the box but off the table! Even if I don’t use these suggestions for this particular table, they are great ideas for tables yet to come. Thanks, Craig!

  6. Damon

    It may be a bit challenging, but I really liked the Emanating from Emptiness print. https://store.tashimannox.com/product/emanate-from-emptiness-1
    Whoever is eating at this table can contemplate their emptiness while waiting to eat!

  7. renee suttner

    I really think the circle around the outside edge of the table where hands will rest and eyes can observe thesextion where they sit with much clarity. It also reminds me of the ouroboros, which is great topic to converse and represent the endless nature of the alphabet, words and time etc.

    • Timothy Brookes

      Yes, that’s very much why I want to made a series of circular tables…